Security Resources

Self-Monitoring FAILS in Fort Worth

Following up on an earlier article about self-monitored security equipment, I wanted to share a recent incident that brings to light an important consideration for anyone wishing to pursue such technology.

According to an article in the Star-Telegram, a businessman in Fort Worth, Texas was unable to dispatch authorities to his store for a burglary in progress that he witnessed live via a remote video system. The municipality has a “no permit, no dispatch” policy, and the permit for the business had been expired for almost a year, so the police department is standing by its decision for now.

This is an interesting case for a number of reasons:

1. The business owner, Leroy Reber, is a security equipment reseller and installer, licensed by the State of Texas, so he was likely aware of the local dispatch policy.

2. The remote video connection was manually initiated by Mr. Reber after he received a text message informing him of the alarm. It is not clear whether the text message originated from a monitoring center (central station) or from the equipment at the premise. This could be relevant, since a central station would normally dispatch the alarm immediately upon receipt (or after following verification procedures), so the PD may have already been informed and known that the alarm was triggered by a system with an expired permit.

3. There appears to be some confusion over what was said during the dispatch request. It is plausible that the refusal to dispatch was triggered by semantics. If the PD heard, for example, that “my alarm went off and there is a burglary in progress,” it seems reasonable that they might follow the no dispatch rule. If, on the other hand, they heard “I am viewing my business on a live video feed and I can see someone trying to break in,” their response might have been different. In other words, if the PD believes the dispatch is the result of an alarm system activation, they may automatically treat it differently than if some other security technology (e.g. live video from an owner’s networked camera) is involved.

So what does this mean for those who wish to self-monitor a video camera, alarm panel, or other device that might result in a call to police? Unfortunately, the answer is not clear at all. Most alarm permit statues were written with traditional monitored systems in mind: keypads, door contacts, motion detectors, and the like. Definitions are often loose, however, and it wouldn’t be surprising if some jurisdictions interpret any device that triggers a signal transmission – even if sent directly to a property owner’s cell phone – to be a monitoring system that requires a permit. This is certain to catch users off guard, since the first time they need police may be the first time they realize that a permit is required – possibly years after the equipment was installed. Current and future-generation IP cameras will increasingly be used this way, capturing events and acting as an all-in-one remote video and alarm reporting system.

I suspect that it will be some time before statues are rewritten to address self-monitoring, since it is still in the early-adopter phase. If anything, police departments are much more likely to dispatch in cases like Mr. Reber’s than to refuse, mainly due to the situation the Fort Worth PD is facing today: it is difficult to explain why “no permit, no dispatch” is a good idea to a taxpayer who witnessed their property being damaged and called for help. A police spokesman acknowledged that the department is investigating to determine exactly what was reported, and when. I will post updates as they are available…